The Chinese web is a highly coveted market for all brands of luxury goods from around the world. But it is also a difficult sector for investments – with its limited access conditions as well as its famous Great Firewall. How do these brands manage to deal with these technical handicaps? Using its Chinese probes, Dareboost tested the web performance of 49 of these prestigious brands.
According to the latest Bain & Company survey on luxury goods, Chinese consumers make up 30% of a 249b€ global market with “Mainland China [that] is increasingly outperforming the market as Chinese consumption at home increases“. At the same time, the survey shows that “e-commerce is the leading channel in terms of growth, reaching 7 percent penetration in 2016“. Just combine these two facts to understand why virtually all luxury brands are elbowing their way to secure a position on the Chinese web! “Chinese luxury buyers are massively searching for information about products, brands, and quality. They find most of this information online – on the brand’s e-commerce site, Chinese online sales platforms, and social networks,” said Olivier Verot, founder of the China Marketing Agency, in a forum published on marketing-professionnel.fr.
Limited access to the web
But a good position on the Chinese web is not easy to get and the average Internet access conditions, which are considerably more difficult than in Europe or the United States, for example, don’t make things any easier.
Webworldwide.io (mentioned in our previous article, Website Speed: Test it Like your Users Browse it) reminds us that the average recorded speed only reaches 4.2Mbps (compared to 9.9Mbps in France or 15.3Mbps in the USA) and that 44% of these Internet users benefit from a bandwidth greater than 4Mbps …
When you realize the importance of the impact of a website’s loading speed on its overall success (in terms of audience, its bounce or conversion rate, or even its brand image or competitive positioning), you say to yourself that these brands will have to struggle in order to offer powerful web pages on the Chinese network!
Great Firewall: beware of the damage on web performance
Especially since they also have to cope with another very specific pitfall, which can be detrimental to their web performance: the Great Firewall of China, i.e. the internet surveillance and censorship system run by the Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China.
Initiated in 1998, deployed since the end of 2003 and regularly developing, this gigantic firewall fulfills its role by using various methods ranging from blocking IP addresses to filtering and DNS redirection, URL filtering, and TCP packet filtering with heavy consequences for the performance of websites that have to overcome this obstacle and a true repellent for many Internet users …
What are the possible solutions? Deploy the website directly in China (involving heavy administrative procedures) and / or use local CDNs. But as we will see at the end of this article, this does not solve all the problems!
An average Start Render of 1.6 second
In this context, Dareboost has mobilized its test probes in China to experience the web performance of 49 luxury brand websites of “from the inside” and thus evaluate the user experience that they offer to Chinese Internet users.
The overall verdict: the 49 tested websites have a median speed index of 4,862 milliseconds and a start render (time before the display begins to load) of 1.6 second. These numbers reflect a general user experience which is far from optimal. Don’t forget the fateful threshold of a second, beyond which Internet users fully become aware that they are waiting. They may then get distracted from their original intention and abandon their visit …
The observed gaps are sparse: apart from Louis Vuitton clearly in the lead with a display starting at 233 milliseconds, the other brands show performances between 600 milliseconds and 5 seconds, with finally only 10 brands being able to start displaying their page before the one-second mark.
Server response time: an average of 335ms
Let’s go back now to “the origins” of the performance of these websites by examining the server response times of these 49 protagonists (or more precisely their TTFB, Time To First Byte). Tests conducted by Dareboost produced an average of 335ms. However, this average masks extremely varied situations: 13 websites display a TTFB within 200ms – Calvin Klein (131ms), Louis Vuitton (156ms) and Fendi (158ms) show the 3 best performances – 9 others have to face a server response time greater than 1 second. It’s hard to imagine that this is acceptable for the image of brands of such prestigious companies …
Page size: from 400kB to 24MB!
Another decisive factor for a web page’s performance: its weight. At first glance, the average weight of 2.4MB measured by Dareboost on the 49 sites tested could be judged as “average”. But we must take into account the abovementioned Internet access conditions in China, with an average speed which is over twice as low as the one we know in France. The consequence: many web pages struggle to display visuals, and 3 companies in particular easily exceed 10MB of data downloaded for their homepage!
Many Single Points of Failure
This study was an opportunity for us to rediscover how dramatic the effects of the Chinese Great Firewall could be for websites that did not eliminate the Single Point of Failure when building their front-ends.
Indeed, a substantial amount of third party content, which are used on the web pages of these different companies, are randomly blocked by the firewall. And for many, this blocking of resources prevents the web pages from purely and simply being displayed!
It is probably due to this last point that the luxury brands which are already hosted in China have the best source of optimization to be found: eliminate the SPOFs in order to allow their web pages to be displayed even if the content in question is blocked.
Dareboost has used its test probes based in China (Shangai) to test – several times – the homepage loading time of 49 luxury brands chinese website. These tests had been conducted according the following context: from a desktop with a mainstream web browser (Google Chrome), an 4MB average bandwidth and a 50ms latency.
Here is the list of the tested brands:
Alexander McQueen, Armani, Balenciaga, Berluti, Breguet, Breitling, Bulgari, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Cartier, Chanel, Chaumet, Chloé, Chopard, Christian Louboutin, Christofle, Cleef & Arpels, Coach, Céline, De Beers, Dior, Dunhill, Fendi, Fossil, Givenchy, Gucci, Hublot, Hugo Boss, La Perla, Lacoste, Loewe, Longchamp., Longines, Louis Vuitton, Maxmara, Miu Miu, Montblanc, Omega, Prada, Rolex, Saint Laurent, Samsonite, Swarovski, Tiffany, Tissot, Tods, Tommy Hilfiger, Valentino, Van, Versace.